Author, Jackie Middleton, Customer Success Specialist
As winter rolls in and outdoor options fade away, I tend to go through phases of watching and re-watching TV Shows to see how my perspective on them has changed over time. After picking up Kitchen Nightmares for a second time around (please don’t judge me!), I began to notice that Gordon was much less of an “Angry, yelling award-winning Chef” and more of an “Angry, process-focused project manager.” The more I watched, the more I realized that the format for restaurant improvement shown in every episode might be familiar for anyone who goes through some Process Improvement within their organization.
Now before you start thinking I’m crazy, let me explain exactly what I mean:
Discovery a.k.a. “Gordon approaches the unassuming restaurant, cue dramatic music.”
Each episode begins with Gordon visiting the restaurant as a customer would. He is taking an outsider’s look at the whole situation before diving into the kitchen. He will typically order a dish and observe the flow of the staff and overall communication. Is this starting to ring a bell for some?
When we approach process improvement, it can seem like a daunting task. Where would one start? What should we be focusing on? The approach Gordon takes to helping a new restaurant is very similar to the approach a project manager would take when they are assigned to a new project. You would start with an in-depth discovery – How well does the teamwork currently? What are they trying to achieve? What are the issues that stand out as obvious barriers to success? Making sure you can pinpoint the EXACT problems that your team is trying to fix and improve is critical to ensuring your discovery is successful.
Post-Discovery Planning or “Gordon watching and yelling at chefs not knowing how to chef.”
After thoroughly disliking the food served to him in the problematic restaurant, Gordon usually decides to visit the kitchen. He’s evaluating everything from cleanliness, organization, tools, and (sometimes) kitchen hierarchy. He will observe their workflow, how they communicate with customers and each other, how the chefs are managing the incoming orders, and so on.
Without having to literally scrape oil off the walls, we can take a similar approach to the tools and environment the team is working in.
Some questions to ask yourself and the team during planning:
- Communication (Internal and External): How are your teams communicating? Are they doing it directly/clearly/frequently? Are there any roadblocks that stem from this? How do outside stakeholders find out the status of the project?
- Tooling: Is it time for a tool or environment refresh? Are the tools you are using solving the problems they were intended to (i.e., can you still justify the cost of the licensing or hosting?) You can apply this to software installs Virtual environments, etc.
How are the tools being used? How long has it been since your team looked through their backlog? Is everyone using the same tools or are they all separate and working haphazardly
- Methodology: What does the team currently used to optimize their workflow? Is it working? Or is it time to consider a new methodology? What would work best with the team’s style? Is this a proven system or something homegrown?
**It is important to note that having an external viewer or party to your process can help pinpoint any issues you may not be aware of. When you work with a team for a long time, habits develop (and not always good ones). It can be hard to see these things if they’ve become part of your daily process, so always remember to approach discovery with an open mind.**
Project Parameters and Standardization or “Gordon starts yelling, a lot more. About working the right way.”
After discussing any issues or roadblocks found while making sure the restaurant is on the same page on what needs to change (since Internal Buy-in is vital to adopt any new process changes), Gordon will throw his chef’s coat on and take a more hands-on approach to the situation. This portion of the show will vary depending on how well the kitchen copes and, most importantly, communicates. This portion of the show translates pretty well to a team adopting a new process or methodology, with changes come learning and adaptation. But if your team is silent on any difficulties or confusion they may have, your new process may stall or experience more significant changes in scope. Communication (not yelling per se) is critical.
Be clear on your objectives; ensure your team is over-communicating, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Maintaining visibility ensures everyone can support each other without any surprises.
Consider the first iterations of your process improvement as a road map to success. There will be failures, but they can be used to improve the team further. Roadblocks or mistakes are things you make a note of and bring up in a retrospective to help everyone learn. Just try not to take the Gordon yelling approach; it may work on line chefs but not your coworkers in an office setting.
Information Radiators and keeping everyone accountable or “YES, CHEF!”
Gordon’s biggest pet peeve is when a chef is unable to communicate what they are doing at any time. It can be a significant roadblock for the wait staff if they are waiting on an order, it can prevent the manager from understanding if the kitchen is backed up or has too many orders. As I mentioned in my previous point, over-communication can help teams work more efficiently. But what if you aren’t working in a kitchen?
What are the different ways you keep your team on task? How does the team know the project status? Is there a place anyone can look in your organization to find out the status of your project? If your team is Agile and uses Scrum, is there a Scrum board visible to all on the team?
You need to have a shared space or tool to ensure you can manage everyone’s WIP (work in progress) dynamically while keeping everyone on the team accountable. It’s easier for a manager to evaluate resources and scope for a new project if they can glance at a team’s current workload. And if you feel like shouting “YES, CHEF!” after every work order, more power to you.
Retrospect, acknowledge, and celebrate your team’s wins or “That part of the show where Gordon is getting ready to leave, and it’s all emotional.”
At the end of each 30-minute kitchen epic, you can understand that Gordon is striving to teach restaurants to adopt and buy into a formal process. You could call him an Organizational Change Management expert with a set of kitchen knives. A lot of the restaurants he approaches in his show had been successful at some point in their career but let bad habits, lack of standardization, and perhaps even waning motivation affect their overall success.
Gordon is reminding these restaurants and, through the magic of streaming television, ourselves, what we are all working to achieve together in the first place. He is reminding us about having the passion and drive towards achieving our goals, taking a step back and learning from our mistakes, embracing constructive criticism we receive and listening to our customers, and not forgetting to celebrate wins as a team.